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A simple way of giving back to the community

Each year at SAP we are invited to give back to the community in the form of volunteer days. SAP is the only company I have worked for that offers this. However there is a very simple way of giving back to the community that is open to most of us. Schools in the US and UK (and I’m sure other countries too) have career days. This is an invitation from the local schools for you to talk to the students about your career and encourage them to make positive choices.

This year I presented at a local Elementary school in the suburbs of Washington DC. Most of the professionals were policemen and secret service. Of course the most popular were those that brought big toys, a real fire truck, police cars, a dump truck and handcuffs.
This of course makes it a challenge for a software engineer to engage the students. Given the other options open, I chose part of my presentation to be robocode .

Robocode is a great entry level to introduce students and children to programming. It comes with it own Java IDE that provides a framework and coding for controlling a robot in a game. Young children seem to love things with robots in them.

I explained to the 6 and 7 year olds in the room how the robot was controlled and what they needed to do to change it. I then invited them up to make changes and run the program to see if the changes they made moved the robot as expected.

Even for those of you that are not developers the code snippet below should be simple to follow:

    public void run() {
        // Initialization of the robot should be put here

        // Some color codes: blue, yellow, black, white, red, pink, brown, grey, orange…
        // Sets these colors (robot parts): body, gun, radar, bullet, scan_arc
        setColors(orange, blue, white, yellow, black);

        // Robot main loop
        while(true) {
            // Replace the next 4 lines with any behavior you would like

The students changed the colors and movement and got excited watching it go crazy when they executed the program they had wrote.

The biggest surprise I got was not during the day, but a few weeks later. I received an envelope with handwritten letters from the students that had liked my presentation the best. Being best obviously being a tough task when up against flashing blue lights, wailing sirens and stories about protecting the president. The majority of the letters were from girls and a few thanked me for describing my job as they now understood better what their parents did at work, but the real icing on the cake for me was “I mabey be an enganie when I grow up!” (sic).


Such simple things and such little time can help bring a positive influence.

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  • John, this will be shared in Bangalore during our Women in Technology Design Thinking event on Thursday.  Mentorship, engaging (especially with the young), leading by example, will help ensure that our future technologists will indeed be inclusive and inspiring. As you are. I am so moved….and grateful.
  • Hi John,

    great blog. I had a similar experience about 12 months ago.

    I also used robocode for my example but about 2 years ago I did one with Alice which is also good for this purpose.

    I think alice has lots of extra potential to interest girls as well.

    Of course I can’t mention Alice without referring everyone who hasn’t seen it to “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch.

    Graham Robbo

    Graham Robbo

  • Hello John

    It’s a great example of a thank you note which energizes you to keep going. Appreciation is an essential factor to keep people going, sharing, contributing and creating added value.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    I try to step up where I see opportunities to do so and it’s rewarding. The reward doesn’t have to be huge to be meaningful and to fuel someone to keep going. I helped a student with his programming courses and he bought me a bottle of wine to thank me after finishing high school succesfully.

    Kind regards


  • John:

    Gotta say…one of the best blogs I have read in years…nothing inspires more than kids looking forward to follow this hard but amazing career…and having you help them to make that difficult decision it’s really great…hope to be able to something like that soon -:)


  • You beat out the fireman for a little girls attention.

    I love kids.  And they say / write exactly what is on their minds with very little filter.  So she must have loved it when you came in?

    I don’t suppose you can come to the US and show what fun it could be to my 13 year old.  Who thinks what I do is REALLY boring.

    Great post – it makes me smile!


  • I am sure John, U can always inspire kids with your gaming skills, you should have shown them your Lego SCNotty, they would have been as excited as we all were…on a stronger note, great work.
    This is a mere reflection for what SAP stands for Corporate Social Responsibility..kudos to you
    Cheers Tridip (your neighbour) — 🙂
  • I think just about every company I’ve worked for has emphasized community service and gave a day just for service like SAP does.

    I think when it comes to community service, the focus is more on the benefit to the community, instead of how rewarding it can be personally. This is a great example of that.

    I can guarantee I never aspired to be a SAP consultant as an elementary student. Maybe if someone showed me how cool technology can be, I would have realized my career path sooner!
    I also like that the letter you received was from a girl. We need more female engineers in the world!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • I am SO jealous! You did a great thing, my friend!

    For career day, I’m the guy you were up against- LOL! I get to wear a uniform, bring in the BRT (big red truck) and wear an airpack to talk like Darth Vader.  But I do get a kick out of it when the kids ask about my ‘other’ job! Maybe I need to bring a robot ON the firetruck next year!!